Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pressure Under Pressure: GOB

"We don't live from tourism, we survive from tourism ... (There has to be an alternative) based on agriculture and renewable energy." The quote comes from an interview with Margalida Ramis, the spokesperson for the GOB environmental pressure group. The interview was carried in the Diario de Mallorca on Sunday.

It is never satisfactory to quote out of the context of everything else being said, but the quote nevertheless gives a flavour of the GOB stance on tourism. Environmentalism and tourism make for uneasy bedfellows. In the case of GOB, they would rather kick tourism out of bed, if only over the edge rather than onto the floor. It isn't that GOB wish that there was no tourism, just that there was rather less dependence upon it, a dependence which results in what you get - massification and saturation, to use the buzzwords of the time - as well of course as environmental damage.

The survival from tourism brings with it, in GOB terms, a lowering in family purchasing power (these families being ones in the Balearics). This is a theme of the regional government. Despite the current bonanza, the wealth from tourism does not cascade downwards throughout all the socioeconomic food chain. There is merit to the argument insofar as salaries are as they are (not always great) and jobs can so often be temporary or be subject to dubious contractual arrangements.

There is an additional hazard from this survival. The bonanza, as we all know, owes much to sad events suffered by others. Safety and security in the Balearics have provided homes to holidaymakers "borrowed" from elsewhere. What would happen if security became an issue here? Safety, as we also all know, cannot be guaranteed anywhere.

This said, the islands' tourism has in the past faced difficulties not of its making. An example was the oil crisis of the 1970s. It was survived, although it took around four years for numbers to really recover. There was also the Icelandic ash cloud, which created a shortlived crisis but demonstrated the extent to which the wholly unexpected can suddenly explode.

Ramis was saying nothing new. The dependence on tourism and therefore the need for diversification have been discussed over and over. They are still being discussed: at great length by the current regime. But there is diversification realism and there is lack of realism. Agriculture? Really. It counts for around one per cent of GDP. It is also subject to the caprices of Mother Nature in the same way that tourism is. I give you the drought in evidence, while I can also give you the impact of pests. As for renewable energy, it remains something of a pipedream, and while it would represent diversification, it would need productive sectors to energise, such as tourism.

Having read this interview, the general impression one was left with was that GOB believe they should be listened to more and that they should be exerting greater influence. GOB are never short of things to say or of denuncias to be lodged, but might the sheer volume of noise that emanates from them be doing them a disfavour? One can believe that with the eco-nationalists Més in charge of the tourism and environment ministries, GOB felt they had the right people to bend to their influences. But Biel Barceló is described as a "total disappointment", while there seems to be some disenchantment with Vicenç Vidal at environment and agriculture as well.

GOB have in the past been told, by the right, to either put up and become a political party or shut up. Such criticism is unfair to a pressure group with legitimate aims and concerns, but they are only a pressure group. Més have enough pressure as it is because of the constant battles with the parties of the "pact". They don't need GOB hounding them and telling them what to do. One-time natural allies can now point out to GOB that being in government requires the consideration of more than a pressure group's demands.

It isn't as if GOB aren't pandered to. Although the organisation disagrees with how the tourist tax revenue is to be spent - it wants it all to go towards the environment - it has representation on the spending committee. Two places in fact; one more than the Council of Mallorca, for example.

Then there is the question of pressure that GOB might be feeling. I have previously wondered about the relationship with Terraferida, which shot to prominence over the Cabrera beach "privatisation" and Albufera waste spillage last summer. Ramis says that Terraferida are not a threat, which is revealing in itself. Aren't they both operating from the same hymn sheet? Yes, but in different ways, explained Ramis without being wholly convincing.

Terraferida have, though, captured the "saturation" mood in a more dramatic and direct way than GOB. Is it the case that GOB have become institutionalised and now form part of the establishment? Even pressure groups, it would seem, can come under pressure.

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